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The Algonquin

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The Algonquin

     America, at the time of its discovery by Europeans, was peopled by a race whose origin has ever remained a matter of conjecture; whence they came and their relationship, if any, to other peoples who then occupied or had occupied other portions of the known world has remained one of the unsolved problems of the race; nor is it of any particular interest except as an abstract question of ethnology whether they were the descendents of the lost tribes of Israel or of the Hykso, or Shepherd Kings of Egypt, or of the Tyrian, each of which had played its part in the drama of life and disappeared from the stage. Whether they had in some remote period crossed from the Eastern hemisphere, or were indigenous to the soil are problems that arouse the interest of the student of sociology, because they raise the question whether the Indians of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries had relapsed into a state of at least semi-barbarism from the civilization of Europe, Asia and Northern Africa as developed centuries before, or had advanced by glow stages from the more complete barbarism of primitive men.
     For the purpose of this work, we will take them as they were, leaving the problem of their origin and development to be discussed, or further discussed, by scientists in the hope that, as matter of abstract knowledge, the wisdom of future ages may penetrate the veil. Taking them as the Europeans found them, ethnologists tell us that the territory now included within the bounds of the United States, excluding Alaska and the islands of the seas, was occupied by seven distinct families, three of which, the Algonquin, Iroquois and Appalachian, sometimes called the Mobilian, were east of the Mississippi River.
     As our interest at this time is limited to those tribes located in Southern New England, I shall not make further reference to the latter group which lay south of the Carolinas, nor to the Iroquois except to call attention to their activities, as those activities affected the Algonquin tribes located along the shores of the rivers, lakes and sea and in the forest fastnesses of New England.
     Of the Iroquois, or Hodenosaunee, as they called themselves, the Five Nations of New York were the dominant league, and eventually, being joined by a sixth, thus making them the six nations, as they are frequently called, they overcame and absorbed the other tribes of their own race; and so in later times the six nations and Iroquois became almost identical in meaning. The original five nations were the Mohawks, Oneidas, Onondagas, Cayuga and Seneca. The Tuscarora had at some earlier time broken away and settled on the coast and streams of the Carolinas, where they maintained themselves against the hostile attacks of Algonquin and Appalachians for generations, but were eventually reunited with their ancient brethren. The subjugated Iroquois tribes, the remnants of which were absorbed by the five nations, were the Hurons or Wyandots, Eries and Andaste. Whence they came, to have thus settled themselves in the limited territory they occupied, entirely surrounded by Algonquin, is uncertain. They themselves have three traditions concerning the matter, one of which tells us that they came from the north, another that they came from the west, and the third that they sprang from the soil of New York State.
     The totemic clan seems to have been more highly developed among them than among the Algonquin, the several tribes, independently of their tribal relations, being united in eight such clans, the members of which were bound together by ties stronger than those of tribal relationship, intermarriage between members of the same clan being prohibited, though allowed between members of the same tribe but of different clans.
     Francis Parkman, Jr., than whom no historian has taken greater pains to secure absolute accuracy, says of them: "They extended their conquests and their depredations from Quebec to the Carolinas, and from the Western prairies to the forests of Maine. On the South they forced tribute from the subjugated Delawares and pierced the mountain fastnesses of the Cherokees with incessant forays. On the North they uprooted the ancient settlement of the Wyandot, on the West they exterminated the Erie and the Andaste, and spread havoc and dismay around the tribes of the Illinois; and on the East the Indians of New England fled at the first peal of the Mohawk War Cry. Their war parties roamed over half America, and their name was a terror from the Atlantic to the Mississippi; but when we ask the numerical strength of the dreaded confederacy, when we discover that, in the days of their greatest triumphs, their united cantons could not have mustered four thousand warriors, we stand amazed at the folly and dissension which left so vast a region the prey of a handful of bold marauders."
     From this it is readily seen that they were a warlike people, dreaded by the Algonquin everywhere, by whom they seem to be known simply as Mohawks, this being perhaps the dominant tribe in the league. The period of their greatest triumph appears to have been from 1649 to 1672, for it was then that they subjugated their own kindred tribes, the Hurons, Erie and Andaste, and overran the Delawares.
     One of the peculiar customs of the Iroquois is worth a word in passing, and that is the rule of descent through the female line; that is, a chief's brother, sister or sister's children succeeded to the chieftaincy rather than his own or his brother's children, the reason being that by no inconstancy on the part of the wife of a chief or of his mother or sisters, was it possible that his brother, sister or sister's children should not be of his own family, even if only through the mother, while the children of his wife or of his brother's wife might be no relation to him.

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Massasoit of the Wampanoags

Massasoit of the Wampanoags

 

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